How plastics waste recycling could transform the chemical industry

If demand for plastics were to continue on its current trajectory, global volumes of plastic waste would increase from 260 million tons per year in 2016 to 460 million tons per year in 2030, taking what is already a major environmental problem to a whole new level. . . In the face of public outrage over global plastic pollution, the chemical industry is beginning to mobilize on this issue.

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Our recent “No Time to Lose” article showed how industry leadership is moving beyond the “once and discard” approach under which the plastics industry has grown and encompasses an expanded definition of product management that includes the treatment of plastic waste. As we pointed out in that article, this is not only what the company requires and is becoming a condition for the industry to maintain its license to operate, but it could also represent an important and profitable new business opportunity.
The latter idea is based on our comprehensive assessment of where future global waste streams come from, how they could be recycled, and the economic benefits this activity could offer, research that has filled a serious gap in public debate. In this article, we describe a scenario for the plastics industry through which 50 percent of the world’s plastics could be reused or recycled by 2030, a four-fold increase from what we get today, and which also has the potential to create substantial value. Following this path, the reuse and recycling of plastics could generate profit pool growth of up to $ 60 billion for the petrochemical and plastics industry, accounting for nearly two-thirds of its potential earnings growth over the period. We also discuss the levels of support that will be needed more broadly in society, including from regulators, major users of plastics such as consumer packaged goods companies and consumers, to achieve this.

For plastics and petrochemical companies and by extension the chemical industry, with plastics manufacturing accounting for more than a third of the industry’s business, this presents a number of threats and opportunities and we outline the types of strategic questions they will need. evaluate and options. to make.

Shaping a Virtuous Circle of Plastic Recycling Around the World
Our research shows that only 12% of plastic waste is currently reused or recycled (Figure 1). The fact that the vast majority of used plastics go to incineration, landfill or landfill means that these materials are lost forever as a resource, despite the potential for reuse and recycling of plastics. Plastics production requires significant capital investments and a substantial carbon footprint. Reusing plastics not only reduces these investment needs, it can also help reduce total industrial carbon emissions.
Images of plastic waste around the world have contributed to a consumer backlash that is leading to regulatory action to ban or restrict the use of plastics in numerous geographic areas, particularly in the European Union. Marine plastic pollution has been a powerful force in mobilizing public opinion and our colleagues have suggested ways to tackle the problem. However, when considering the recycling potential of plastic waste, marine plastic pollution could be better understood as the highly visible tip of the iceberg.

What the chemical industry was missing, along with the major consumer industries, the waste industry and society in general, is a clear picture of a way in which volumes of discarded plastic could be recovered and reused.

It also lacked a comprehensive perspective on where most waste came from and which recovery and recycling technologies offered the most potential.
We address this gap with a comprehensive global plastic waste production model, different approaches to plastic reuse, and associated recycling technologies, and their economics. Our baseline scenario assumes an oil price of $ 75 per barrel. We also explore lower and higher price scenarios and their potential increasing profits, as well as different societal approaches to recycling, as all these factors have a great influence on the feasibility of plastic recycling. (For more information on the model, see the “About Search” sidebar).

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